Chattampi Swamikal

nameChattampi Swamikal
birth_dateAugust 25, 1853
birth_placeKollur, Trivandrum
death_dateMay 5, 1924
death_placePanmana, Kollam
resting_placeSamadhistanam at Panmana
guruPettayil Raman Pillai Asan, Ayyavu Swamikal, Subba Jadapadikal
disciplesNeelakanta Therthapada, Theerthapada Parmahamsa
literary_worksAdvaita Chinthapaddhathi, Vedadikara Nirupanam, Pracheena Malayalam etc.
honorsSree Vidyadhiraja Parama Bhattaraka
free_textThe whole universe is one mind. Between mind and mind there is no vacuum.
other_namesKunjan Pillai

Chattampi Swamikal (25 August 1853 – 5 May 1924) was a Hindu sage and social reformer. His thoughts and work influenced the launching of many social, religious, literary and political organisations and movements in Kerala and for the first time gave voice to those who were marginalised.

Chattampi Swamikal denounced the orthodox interpretation of Hindu texts citing sources from the Vedas. Swamikal along with his contemporary, Narayana Guru, strived to reform the heavily ritualistic and caste-ridden Hindu society of the late 19th century Kerala. Swamikal also worked for the emancipation of women and encouraged them to come to the forefront of society. Swamikal promoted vegetarianism and professed non-violence (Ahimsa). Swamikal believed that the different religions are different paths leading to the same place. Chattampi Swamikal throughout his intellectually and spiritually enriched life maintained many friends from different regions of Kerala. He authored several books on spirituality, history, and language staying with these friends.

Early life

!Statue of chattampi swamikal at attukal temple DSC 8709|||Statue of Chattampi Swamikal at Attukal temple Chattampi Swami was born on 25 August 1853 at Kollur in southern Travancore. His father was Thamarassery Vasudeva Sharma, a Nambudiri Brahmin from Mavelikkara, and his mother was Nangamma Pillai, a Nair from Kannammoola. He was called by the pet name of Kunjan Pillai – meaning “small male baby” – by all. As his parents were not able to provide him formal education, he learned letters and words from children of his neighbourhood who attended schools. Also he learned Sanskrit by overhearing the classes at a Brahmin house nearby. Knowing his thirst for learning an uncle took him to the traditional school conducted by Pettayil Raman Pillai Asan, a renowned scholar and writer who taught him without any fee. It was there that he earned the name Chattampi on account of his assignment as the monitor of the class.


In the 1870s Raman Pillai started a scholarly group named ‘Jñānaprajāgaram’ with experts on different subjects with progressive attitude. It served as a meeting place for many scholars of that time and facilitated Kunjan to acquaint himself with many great men. He also could learn Tamil from Swaminatha Desikar and philosophy from Professor Manonmaniyam Sundaram Pillai during his participation in ‘Jnanaprajagaram’. Kunjan Pillai was introduced into the science of yoga by the Thycaud Ayyavu Swamikal a scholar and yogi who used to give lectures at ‘Jnanaprajagaram’. While so a wandering sadhu who came to his village temple initiated him into spiritual world by giving the Balasubramanya Mantra. Mastering this mantra gave him a new vigour and zeal and he assumed the name Shanmukhadasa due to his deep devotion of Subramanya.

Ordinary days

As the burden of supporting the family fell on him, Kunjan Pillai took to many manual works. For many days he served as a labourer carrying building materials for the construction of Government Secretariat building in Trivandrum. For some time he worked as a document writer and also as an advocate’s clerk. He stood first in a test for clerical posts in Government Secretariat Trivandrum conducted by Sir T Madhava Rao the then Divan of Travancore State. But he left the service after a short while as it curtailed his freedom and prevented his wanderings for spiritual exploitations and research.

Meets Subba Jatapadikal

In one of the Philosophical Conferences organised annually by the Travancore Kings at the Palace complex adjacent to Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple Kunjan Pillai met Subba Jatapadikal from Kalladaikurichin in Southern Tamil Nadu; a renowned teacher well versed in Tarka, Vyakarana, Mimasa, and Vedanta. Both were impressed by the other and Kunjan’s wish to learn at Kalladaikurichin under him was granted.

He spent many years learning under Subba Jatapadikal. There he acquired deep and extensive mastery of all sastras in Tamil and Sanskrit. He also learned Siddha medicine, music, and martial arts. During this period he was greatly influenced by the works of Kodakanallur Sundara Swamikal a great Advaitin. He later translated his work Nijananda Vilasam containing the cream of Vedanta into simple Malayalam to guide spiritual aspirants.

Study of other religions

After completing his studies under Subba Jatapadikal he spent long periods of learning under a Christian priest. In a secluded church in Southern Tamil Nadu assisting the priest he learned Christian Religion and philosophy. Later he lived with an old Muslim well versed in Qur’an and Sufi mysticism who taught him the main tenet of Islam. Kunjan acquired proficiency reading Qur’an in the traditional way. Leaving him he wandered for months with many avadhutas in Southern Tamil Nadu and also traveled all over India. These days revealed to him that the basic concepts of all religions are the same.


At the end of his wanderings and quest Kunjan Pillai was led to self-realisation by an avadhuta whom he met at a wayside in Vadaveeswaram a village in Tamil Nadu with whom he lived for many months in the forests without any contact with the outside world. It is believed that this avadhuta belonged to the line of immortal masters of Southern India; the Siddhas who knew the scientific art for realising God. He returned to Kerala as a great scholar and saint.

Major disciples

Swamikal’s prominent disciples are Narayana Guru, Neelakanta Theerthapada and Theerthapada Parmahamsa. In 1882, at the Aniyoor Temple near Vamanapuram, Swamikal met Nanu Asan, later known as Narayana Guru. Asan was three years younger than Swamikal and in search of spiritual guidance. By then Swamikal was well-versed in yoga and spiritual matters and their meeting proved to be the start of a profound and cherished companionship, although the two were of different temperaments In those days Nanu Asan was a soft-spoken introvert and Swamikal was an outspoken extrovert. They lived and travelled for many months together. Swami introduced Asan to all arts and sciences he had mastered and also gave him the Balasubrahmanya mantra. These were the formative years of Asan, who later became a social reformer. Later Swamikal took Asan to his guru, Ayyavu Swamikal. After completing Asan’s studies under Ayyavu Swamikal the men left him and wandered together in southern Tamil Nadu where they met many scholars. Narayana Guru practised austere Jnana and Yoga under Swamikal during this period. It was with Chattampi Swamikal that Asan made his first trip to Maruthuvamalai, and later to Aruvippuram, which was chosen as his abode for meditation and spiritual activities and which was where he was led to self-realisation. It was after this that he was known as Narayana Guru. Swamikal did not stay there for long, although the two maintained a lifelong contact, respect and regard for each other. The poem Narayana Guru composed when he learned that Swami’s samadhi was the only offering he gave to any person and it reveals how he considered Swamikal to be a realised soul. It is the most authoritative critical assessment on Swamikal ever done.

In 1893 Swamikal met his second disciple, Theerthapada, a Sanskrit scholar and an expert in treating snakebites. Inspired by Swamikal, he prepared many works interpreting Advaita for the common man. He also reformed the social and religious rituals and rules and prepared manuals for them. He died in 1921 and Swami installed a Sivalinga above his Samadhi Peeta, which is the only temple, consecrated by him.

In 1898, Theerthapada Paramahamsa became Swami’s disciple. He, too, worked for the removal of caste-related injustices in Kerala society. He established many ashrams and also Theerthapada System for the line of sanyasins following Swami’s teachings and methods.

Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Abedananda, and many other saints ascribes to Swami the responsibility for their turning to spiritual life. Swami has also many grihastha disciples like Bodheswaran, Perunnelli Krishnan Vaidhyan, Velutheri Kesavan Vaidhyan, Kumbalath Sanku Pillai etc. as well as sanyasi disciples like Neelakanta Therthapada and Theerthapada Parmahamsa who played very important role in renaissance and reformation in Kerala.


!Chattambi swamy samadi2|||Chattambi swamy samadi !Chattambi swamy samadi1|||Chattambi swamy samadi2 !Chattambi swamy samadi4|||chattambi swamy samadi Swamikal settled down at Panmana, a village in Kollam district, towards the end of his life. He attained samadhi (died ) on 5 May 1924 after a short illness during which he objected to taking any medicine He was buried at his Samadhistanam at Panmana.

Major works

!Pracheena Malayalam 2-page5-855px djvu|||A page from *Pracheena Malayalam* !Chattampi Swamikal 2014 stamp of India|||Swamikal on a 2014 stamp of India

  • Advaita Chinta Paddhati
  • Vedantasangraham
  • Vedanta Saram
  • Vedadikara Nirupanam
  • Christhumatha Saram
  • Christhumatha Nirupanam
  • Adi Bhasha
  • Keralathile Desa Namangal
  • Jivakarunya Nirupanam
  • Devarcha Paddhatiyude Upodghatam
  • Devi Manasa Puja Stotra Vyakhyanam
  • Nijananda Vilasam
  • Pranavavum Sankhya Darsanavum
  • Moksha Pradipa Khandanam
  • Prapanchathil Stri Purushanmarkkulla Sthanam
  • Pracheena Malayalam
  • Tamizhakam
  • Dravida Mahatmyam
  • Kerala Charithravum Tachudaya Kaimalum
  • Bhasha Padma Puranam
  • Malayalathile Chila Sthala Namangal
  • *Srichakra Pujakalpam *
  • Advaita Panjaram
  • Ozhuvilodukkam (Translation)
  • Chidakasa Layam
  • Tarka Rahasya Ratnam
  • Parama Bhattara Darsanam
  • Punarjanma Nirupanam
  • Brahmatatva Nirbhasam
  • Bhugola Sastram
  • Shanmata Nirupanam
  • Sarva Mata Samarasyam
  • Stava Ratna Haravali Swamikal’s writings comprise various forms, such as single stanzas, muktakas, bhajan songs, essays, critical works, translations, commentaries, short notes, and letters. Swamikal led a wandering life and left what he wrote with those who were with him at the time of writing. Most of the works were only partially recovered and published. There were no later attempts to collect and conserve them, which led to the gradual loss of many of them. A few works were discovered and published eight decades after his death and inspired serious discussion, such as Adhibhasha and Pracheena Malayalam Part -II. The Centre for South Indian Studies has formed the Chattampi Swami Digital Archive (CSDA) project as an attempt to collect and collate extant documents related to Swamikal. Important works available in print are:

The following works are not available, except through excerpts published in various journals and books by contemporaries.

Vedadikara Nirupanam

Vedadikara Nirupanam is considered as one of his greatest works. It refuted the baseless customs and rules that existed in Kerala. For the first time in the region’s history the work questioned the monopolisation of Vedas, sciences and education by a minority. While Nitya Chaitanya Yathi read it to his Master Nataraja Guru, the Master told that ‘The words of the book are true like fire and it was to be considered our luck that these papers have not got burned’.

Works on Vedanta

Swami wrote many guides and commentaries on Vedanta for the common man. Notable among them is Advaita Chinthapaddhathi (1949), an introductory manual on practical Advaita. written in simple language to enable ordinary people without knowledge of Sanskrit to learn Vedanta. The book describes the trigunas, trimurthees, jivatmas, panchabutas, sukshma, sthula, sarirotpatti, dasagunas,prapancholpatti, Tatvamasi, and related Vedic concepts.

Works on Christianity

Christumatha Nirupanam contains two books – the Christumatha Saram (meaning Cream of Christianity) and Christumatha Nirupanam. The Christumatha Saram is his summary of what Christianity is, in accordance with the classical Indian Purva paksha tradition. In Christumatha Chedanam, he criticises various tenets of Christianity which goes against the teachings of Christ. Relying on the Bible itself he disapproves the arguments supporting conversion presented by the missionaries.

Research methods

Pracheena Malayalam also aimed at awakening the mind of the people of the region divided by various complexes to a collective sense of ‘We’. Convictions of common origin and belief in a common ancestry were indispensable for the development of a collective mindset. Swami explored the roots of Kerala society and original inhabitants, and sociologically and genealogically connected most of the present groups in Kerala including the priestly class to common ancestors who were the original inhabitants known as the Nakas. B. Hrdaya Kumari says that Pracheena Malayalam is not only a good example of Swamikal’s logical arguments but is the earliest example of application of hypothesis and fixed methodology for historical studies.

Women’s rights

Swamikal also worked for the emancipation of women and encouraged them to come to the forefront of society. He stated that ancient religion and law in India gave equal status to women and that their role is very important in family and society. He stated that it was the misinterpretation of ancient texts resulting from male arrogance that degraded the position of women and their enslavement.

See Also (Social reformers of Kerala)

  • Sree Narayana Guru
  • Dr. Palpu
  • Arattpuzha Velayudha Panikkar
  • Kumaranasan
  • Rao Sahib Dr. Ayyathan Gopalan
  • Brahmananda Swami Sivayogi
  • Vaghbhatananda
  • Mithavaadi Krishnan
  • Moorkoth Kumaran
  • Vaghbhatananda
  • Mithavaadi Krishnan
  • Moorkoth Kumaran
  • Ayyankali
  • Ayya Vaikundar
  • Pandit Karuppan

Further reading

  • Panmana Ashram
  • Parama Bhattara Vidyadhiraja Chattampi Swamikal
  • Chattampi Swami Archive